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Farmed Wetlands program helps farmers and wildlife (11/02/2003)
By Tom Kirschenmann, Pheasants Forever Regional Biologist

 There was a time when the landscape of the Midwest consisted of vast fields of grass with thousands of wetlands scattered throughout.  Today, only a small percentage of those wetlands exist in their natural state.  Most have been converted to farmland as agricultural practices evolved over the years.  In fact, many of these farmed wetlands are considered "nuisance" acres, because they often cannot be seeded to a crop, or if seeded, produce a marginal crop at best.  However, federal and state conservation programs, along with conservation organizations like Pheasants Forever, are working to return some of those wetlands to the landscape.  Returning these small wetlands to the landscape provides amazing benefits for water, soil, and wildlife.  One particularly beneficial federal conservation program has been the Farmed Wetlands Program (FWP).  

Originally piloted in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, the FWP was such a success that it has been adopted nationwide as part of the hugely successful Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  Through the FWP, farmers and landowners receive financial payments for returning these small wetlands to their natural state.  In their natural state, these wetlands provide habitat for wildlife and protect sensitive soils from erosion.

 "What makes this program so successful is that it creates a win-win situation," said Rick Young, vice president of field operations for Pheasants Forever.  The FWP benefits pheasants and other wildlife by providing wetlands and upland cover for nesting and brood rearing.  For farmers, the FWP is a great tool to generate a stabilized income from acreage that can be risky to farm.  It provides a financially viable solution to these marginal wetland areas and increases farming efficiency.  "The FWP can be a successful part of any farm with wetland areas, from California to New Jersey," said Young.

There are some basic eligibility requirements for landowners interested in enrolling their farmed wetlands in the program.  Wetlands must be small in nature, typically less than five acres and be located outside the floodplain.  However, wetlands up to ten acres can be enrolled under certain stipulations.  Each landowner is limited to a total of 40 acres of wetland per tract, but an upland buffer of up to three times the wetland acreage can be enrolled to protect the wetland.  Finally, all wetlands must have a cropping history in three of the last ten years.  FWP contracts can run either ten or fifteen years in length and rates are based on the average soil rental contracts of that particular county.

The Farmed Wetlands Program is not only improving farmers' bottom lines, but it is also providing essential habitat for pheasants and other varieties of wildlife.  The FWP can offer an environmentally responsible and financially practical solution to land that is difficult to farm and not just for the farmers of the Midwest, but across the nation.  "Both CRP and FWP really make financial sense for me and they are good for wildlife," reported Norm Kummer, a South Dakota farmer.  "That's important to me."  To learn more about the FWP, contact your local Farm Service Agency office. 


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